Who do you wish to become?

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When you look in the mirror, what separates you from who you wish you’d be? This gap is yours to fill. Not to be let widen by your self-critic.

It’s a character I have always loved and been inspired by. Wonder Woman was a beautiful princess, but strong and independent. She took care of herself and everyone she cared about, and didn’t need a prince to rescue her. Those were important qualities to me growing up in an all-woman household, just like the Amazons on Themiscrya. It didn’t hurt that we were all brunettes over 5’7″ either! In Wonder Woman I saw the best qualities of my mother, and the type of woman I wanted my sister and I to become. I’ve always idolized her from childhood and wanted to “be” her when I grew up.” [1]

This testimony reflects what most people who practice cosplay feel about this performance art.

Cosplay: Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Photo by William David Lee (Flickr.com)

If you’re not familiar with it, cosplaying is the act of dressing up as a character you relate to, during a theme-centered convention. One like a Comicon (aka Comi-Con or Comics Convention), for instance. Usually, the character you choose is either fiction, comics, TV or movie-based. Doesn’t have to be a superhero (like Wonder Woman or Batman), it can be a badass or supervillain (like Dark Vader or Freddy Krueger)  as well

If it somewhat reminds you of Halloween’s tradition of wearing a costume (something that goes back as far as 2000 years ago, in what will later become Ireland [2] ), you’d be right.

Except that with cosplay, wearing a costume goes beyond “disguising” or “hiding yourself” under a character’s physical appearance.

The general idea of cosplay being that by choosing to “play a character” you get the opportunity to embody key personality traits, say Wonder Woman for instance, makes you wish you had. Things like courage and independence.

Different studies and articles have shown that this opportunity is actually what cosplayers seek, when they “get into the character” of their choosing; becoming what they wish they were in their “real, not costumed” life. [3, 4] Other studies have also demonstrated the power that clothing has on influencing a person’s personality and actions. Depending on the meaning a coat, for instance, has for someone or what it represents, evokes. [5]

Being able to “act out”, to become what your “aspire to”, even for an hour or a day, is what makes cosplay so interesting.

When you put in perspective what cosplayers are seeking, it’s a reflection of a desire you, me and most people instinctively have; the desire to improve our lives. To get better at something. Let it be “more understanding or patient with my kids”, “better at voicing and articulating my opinions during team meetings”, or “more courageous at starting new projects I get interested in – like a blog, a trek in Europe or else”.

The problem is with the gap that suddenly appears when we start thinking of this “better version of ourselves”. The gap between “Who we are” and “Who we aspire to be”.

I’M NOT BUILT FOR THIS. (…) AM I?

Depending how big it appears to be, an aspiration gap (as it is called) might lead you to think or say “I don’t have what it takes to ‘make it’ ”, “I’m not built for this” or “In my family / where I come from, no one ever did something like this and succeeded”.

Normal. It’s a “distance effect”. Further or higher something appears to be, harder is seems to reach.

In trying to get people to “shrink” or “shorten” such distance, much has been written about the importance of “imagining yourself fulfilling your aspiration, doing that one thing you’d like to do”. For example: Imagine yourself being the center of attention while you speak, during a typical team meeting. See yourself doing the actual signing of a contract with this major client you’d like to work with. Visualize yourself crossing the finish line of this 5K run you’d like to take part in this coming fall, etc..

Boiled down, most of what is suggested has to do with internal work; imagining, visualizing, etc..

Different scientific research have shown the value of visualization and projecting ourselves in a better future can have in one’s success. Athletes also often credit their “visualization practice” for the results they have achieved at the Olympics, for instance. It’s hard to argue against that much evidence in favor of “creating images of ourselves succeeding at what we long to be good at” but…

It still leaves the (aspiration) gap wide open. And doesn’t answer “Can I actually ‘make it’, become who I want to be?

What can you do about it then? How can you fill the gap?

Here’s where cosplay can be an interesting world to be inspired by.

If creating this image of you “succeeding at becoming an engineer in the aerospace industry” can be a very good first step, how about translating in actual decisions and actions what “engineering things” implies or requires in the real world?

Doesn’t mean you need to wear the costume of your favorite superhero at work to feel “empowered”. The simple step of asking yourself “How can I get better at building, engineering things that actually work, like Tony Stark/Iron Man does?” and then “act” accordingly will make a big difference. Because it will force you to look for different examples of situations where Tony Stark actually “built things” and find some sort of pattern or thread. “Ah ok. He always starts with a problem he wants to solve. He states, as clearly as possible, what the problem is about and why he couldn’t solve it. Oh, afterwards, he does some sketching of what he thinks could be possible solutions. He picks one that seems to have the most potential, and then starts building, tinkering many different versions of the device. Always looking for ways to improve the device after a failed attempt or a half-baked success. He (…)

All this analysis giving you something visualization alone can’t provide you with: an actual “how to” you can start using in your own situation, right away.

The most important part being the “practical” aspect of this “how to”.

Having all these insights at hands doesn’t mean you’ll fill your aspiration gap in a snap-of-a-finger. Yet, through practicing “sketching, tinkering” and else, you’ll be able to improve and transform yourself. To grow into what you aspire to become.

Because, when you look at it objectively, no one is really “born” or “built” for something. Except maybe breathing, eating and crapping our diaper. Joke aside, whatever we want to accomplish in life, we all have to go through some learning process. Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather, may have put it best. “Great men are not born great, they grow great …

This idea of “growing into becoming great at something”, as Puzo suggests, somehow calls for some form of “practice”, of “repetition”.

WE ARE WHAT WE REPEATEDLY DO…

There are many examples of people who became what they longed to be. Who, through sweating what “becoming successful required” in their field, they achieved their goal.

Two of my favorite examples, lately, have been those of Oscar Peterson (a renowned jazz pianist) and Steve Jobs (Apple’s co-founder).

In preparation for his first TV interview ever, in 1978, Steve Jobs appears to be nervous. So much so, he’ll ask to know where the bathrooms are. You’ll learn why while watching the video right here. This “first-time-nervousness” somehow seems years away from the calm, confidence and even the swage Jobs shows during the presentation of the iPhone in 2007 [Watch an excerpt of it here  ] A confidence that could have only came from practicing or making presentations over and over.

As for Oscar Peterson, he candidly explains during an interview how he first sucked at playing what is called “double octaves melody lines”. The level of mastery with which he demonstrates to the interviewer what such “lines” are shows how much work he must have put on, how many repetitions of different exercises he must have done to become what he longed to be; a great jazz pianist. [Watch the interview here  ]

This idea of learning through practice, of mastering through repetition isn’t new. Even Aristotle talked about it, some 2300 years ago. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

What cosplay does is offering some sort of “gateway” to a “how to”. One that might just be what’s missing for you to become what you long to be.

It does so not by limiting you only to “imagine yourself be more _____” (at work or in your personal life). It does so by actually allowing you to “act out” whatever you seek. To sweat an aspiration gap out. Both, figuratively and literarily speaking.

YOUR SUPERHERO DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIMITED TO A SCI-FI CHARACTER

When you look around, “Longing to be a better version of ourselves” isn’t something only people do. Organizations do it to. “We want to become the Uber of _____”, “We want to be the Apple or Nike of ____”. You’ve probably heard or read similar examples in the past.

In a sense, you’re not limited in who or what you can “want to be”. Your “inspiring” superhero doesn’t have to be limited to a fiction, sci-fi, TV or movie character neither. It can be a real person. Man or woman, alive or dead, disabled or not, acquainted to you or not.

As someone once wisely said, “Success leaves a trail”. Finding such trail and learning how it can apply to your own path can be a great learning experience in itself. On top of becoming who you aspire to be, because of such trail.

What prevents most people from actually succeeding at “becoming who they wish they’d be” isn’t “not having an aspiration or a goal”. People are rarely short of aspirations, of “I’d like to be (have) more _____”. They don’t lack self-critic neither; “I can’t make it. I don’t have what it takes. I’m not built for it”. People like Oscar Peterson and Steve Jobs have proved it’s possible to achieve success in spite of self-critic. The problem is with what they do about the gap that separates them from that “better version of themselves” they dream about.

Aspirations are great. Perspiration is what makes them come true. You’ve got to sweat a gap out, for it to be closed.

What’s one of your goals or aspirations you believe needs a little more sweat to become a reality?

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Photo credits: Mike Rogers Pix

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